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Seminar Sessions at RSA 2020 Philadelphia

Seminar paper submissions are now open.

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Submission deadline: 15 August 2019

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The RSA Program Committee invites proposals for topics for seminar sessions to be held at the RSA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on 2–4 April 2020.

Each seminar session will be moderated by one or two conveners and will feature discussion of a set of papers circulated in advance of the conference. Seminar topics may address any theme of relevance to Renaissance studies (1300–1700). Seminars that encourage dialogue across disciplines and/or open up new fields are especially welcome. Seminars should not be proposed with the sole purpose of furthering the research undertaken by existing working groups.

Seminars will be scheduled as stand-alone, regular 90-minute conference sessions. Three to six pre-circulated papers will be discussed in each seminar session. The authors of the papers will be listed as presenters in the conference program, but instead of reading their papers aloud, they will provide five-minute synopses, followed by discussion. Seminars will be open to all registered attendees at the Annual Meeting.

Seminar organizers must be established scholars who hold an advanced degree in their disciplines. The authors of the papers may be established scholars or advanced graduate students, following the same eligibility requirements that pertain to other RSA conference sessions.

Seminars at RSA 2020 Philadelphia


The Affordances of Medieval Culture in Renaissance England


Organizers: Christine Hutchins, Danila Sokolov

"Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antiquarians, historians, players, poets, and religious and government officials were acutely aware of the affordances of medieval texts and artifacts. They strategically collected, curated, and deployed fragments of medieval culture in hopes of defining a continuous, uniquely English identity in the wake of unsettling discontinuities in religious settlement and monarchic succession. Beginning with the first quarter of the sixteenth century, England witnessed a sustained and vested interest in discovering, at times forging, publicizing, and using the Medieval past, evident in such diverse undertakings as William Thynne’s 1532 edition of Chaucer’s Works; John Foxe’s compilation of historical documents for the 1563 Book of Martyrs; Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury’s collection and printing of Old English texts; and Edmund Spenser’s persistent adaptation of Medieval literature in poetic works beginning with the 1579 Shepheardes Calender. That the Renaissance was equally aware of the political affordances of the Middle Ages is seen in the vigilant inspection of stage and print versions of Medieval histories; the ongoing suspicion of historian John Stow’s work in the Medieval archives; and the disbandment of the unofficial Society of Antiquaries in 1614 when, as Sir Henry Spelman records, “we had notice that his Majesty took a little Mislike of our Society.”

This proposed Seminar Session for RSA 2020 in Philadelphia welcomes proposals for papers on any aspect of the use-value of Medieval culture for those hoping to shape present and future England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. All disciplines and areas of inquiry are welcome."


Cross-Dressing and Gender Fluidity in Early-Modern Literature and Culture of Western Europe


Organizer: Sophie Raynard-Leroy

The now-familiar concepts of non-binary, gender fluid, polygender, transgender, etc., in today’s conversations on sexual politics seem to be understood as new concepts by the young generation of students as though the realities behind these neologisms were also new or unique to our period. However we, scholars in Renaissance Studies, have always come across these representations of non-traditional gender expressions in early-modern fictions of Western Europe as well as in historical accounts. Cross-dressing in particular is pervasive in the literature we study, and we know that cross-dressed characters abounded on the early-modern stage and were objects of fascination for their contemporary viewers. Today’s critics, especially feminists, have been capitalizing on the current interest in gender and sexuality studies and have successfully applied these new definitions to early-modern representations, thus putting these old texts forth onto the trendy scene (just at a time when they were losing ground). With such provoking titles as “Gender Trouble,” “The Theatricality of Transformation,” “Erotic and Alien,” “New Bodies, Old Sins”, those studies have encouraged to perceive and receive early-modern cross-dressing representations no longer as individual aberrations or expressions of deviancy, but rather as part of a long cultural tradition of gender non-conformity and political transgression. In this seminar, we invite such scholars to present their current studies on the topics of cross-dressing or gender fluidity in a cultural perspective (showing in what ways and to what extent gender identity can be viewed as a socio-historical construct), thus to add their perspective to the ongoing discussions on sexual politics.


The Fall from Grace: Original Sin, Sexuality, and Toleration


Organizers: Umberto Grassi, Eric Dursteler

Original sin is a core tenet of Christian dogma. The official teachings of the Church have never equated the first fault with sexual misconduct but, from Augustinian writings onward, the urge of sexual drive has been deemed the symbol itself of the frailty of postlapsarian humanity. Moreover, the belief that the consequences of original sin, inherited by each and every single human being, could only be washed away by sacramental baptism led to the conclusion that there was no salvation outside the Church. However, since early Christianity, a plurality of interpretations concerning the nature and consequences of original sin were worked out by individuals and sects that have been deemed heretical. This seminar aims to reflect on these themes, exploring both the formation of orthodoxy and the multiplicity of critical discourses that have pointed out the conundrums of the official teachings of the church, anticipating themes that matter to contemporary discourses like sexual freedom, gender equality, religious toleration and secularism. We welcome papers dealing in particular with: the construction of orthodoxy; orginal sin in the doctrinal controversies of the Reformation era; sexual heresies based on heretical reinterpretations of the original sin; reflections on original sin and natural law; Adamites and Pre-Adamites; past unorthodox reflections on the gendered nature of the first couple (the role of women, women as imago dei, intersexuality); the use of sexual tropes to question the authority of the Church, and institutionalized religions in general, in past heretical re-reading of original sin.


Indigenous Responses to Jesuit Ministries in Overseas Missions


Organizer: Robert A. Maryks

In recent decades, high-level scholarship on Jesuit global missions, especially those in early modern period, has been undoubtedly very prolific. This is due in part to a uniquely large collections of archival material the Jesuits left behind, for the Roman Curia of the Society of Jesus had established a system of regular letter-writing. Parts of their reports were copied, translated, and disseminated around the world. Moreover, the Jesuit missionaries, characterized by high level of mobility, were often avid writers about indigenous cultures and history they explored while living among them and speaking their languages.

In contrast, we do know relatively little about how the indigenous people perceived the encounters with European Jesuit missionaries. The goal of this seminar is to encourage dialogue across disciplines, such as visual arts, architecture, music, linguistics, philosophy, and theology, among others, and open up new fields of scholarly investigation, so that we begin to gain a fuller picture of the encounters between indigenous peoples and Jesuit missionaries and fill the current historiographical lacunae.


Mapping the Page in Early Modern Print


Organizers: Taylor Clement, Deborah Solomon

The purpose of this session is to investigate the topographies, geographies, and spaces of the early modern page. Early modern printers were mapmakers of sorts; from books to broadsides, their design choices influence ways that readers travel across the page. The topography of the page appears on a micro-level: grooves of type bite into soft fibers of the paper, creating indentations and leaving ink marks. Impressed lines of woodcuts create micro-hills and valleys on the page. On a macro level, the verbal text, images, printer’s flowers, lines, white space, varying typography, and lines of type to guide the reader through the text.

Readers are mapmakers as well, making turns and leaving traces as they traverse lines of type and printed material. Readers make marks on their journeys through the text, leaving traces of physical presence and ideas on the pages.

We invite papers on the subject of mise-en-page, graphic design, reader interaction, and failed or flourishing layouts on the page. We welcome papers on early modern diagrams, illustrations, decorative printing, moving parts of the page (volvelles, flaps, etc), marginalia and marks of use that predict or mark the reader’s journey as a reader and user of the page. Submissions from all disciplines are welcome.


Multilingual Renaissance Studies: New Perspectives from Research and Teaching

Organizers: Sara Miglietti, David A. Lines


"‘Multilingual Renaissance Studies’ (to borrow Tom Deneire’s felicitous phrase) is one of the most exciting and fast-developing areas in our field. A number of recent monographs, collaborative studies, and research projects on language dynamics in the Renaissance have broken new ground, challenging long-standing opinions and building bridges for increased collaboration between Renaissance scholars and contemporary translation theorists (see, e.g., Jan Hokenson and Murcella Munson’s 'The Bilingual Text', 2007). Studies such as Philip Ford’s 'Judgment of Palaemon' (2013), Tom Deneire’s edited collection Dynamics of Neo-Latin and the Vernacular (2014), and the numerous research outputs of the 'Vernacular Aristotelianism' projects based at the University of Warwick (2010-2014) and the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice (2014-2019) have shed new light on the relationship between Latin and vernacular languages, in literature as well as in philosophy. Similarly, our knowledge of phenomena such as collaborative translation, self-translation, and the production of multilingual printed books has grown exponentially over the last few years, and we can now count on a number of digital tools (such as Warwick’s ‘Renaissance Cultural Crossroads Catalogue’ and KCL’s ‘Early Modern Spanish-English Translations Database 1500–1640’) that allow us to navigate the world of Renaissance translation and multilingualism in new ways.

This seminar session will investigate ‘multilingual Renaissance Studies’ from various perspectives – historical, theoretical, methodological. Topics for discussion include (but are not limited to):

1. recent examples of fruitful interaction between Renaissance Studies and Translation Studies;

2. the multilingual Renaissance in the classroom: perspectives on teaching and training;

3. mapping desiderata in the field: avenues for future research and DH projects.

We welcome proposals from advanced graduate students as well as from established scholars focusing on any language area (also outside Europe).


Renaissance Futures/Renaissance Pasts


Organizers: John Garrison, Marissa Nicosia

Papers in this seminar will explore how Renaissance writers and visual artists imagined the future. In doing so, the essays will explore a range of questions. What can visions of the future tell us about the values of the present? How are early modern visions of the future informed by what has come before? How might we interpret scenes in history plays or chronicles that depict past figures imagining their futures – periods which would be the early modern present or even the recent early modern past? Which models of time - diurnal, cyclical, eschatological - structure Renaissance understandings of the future? How do writers and artists from different cultures, religions, and intellectual traditions imagine possible futures? In taking past visions of the future as our focus, we take inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History. He describes the angel of history this way: "His face its turned toward the past. Where we perceive a change of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet." That is, Benjamin's angel of history watches the past unfold, not the future. But we, as scholars of early modernity, can swivel our heads. We can see the future – both the one envisioned by early moderns and the one that came to pass. In doing so, we can decode these visions in order to draw insight into the anxieties, desires, values, and investments of those producing the visions. This seminar thus brings together recent work in literary studies and historical studies that theorize early modern ideas about history and temporality. It draws upon studies of group or cultural memory, and it invites work from across fields and cultures.


Revisiting Milton's Spenser


Organizers: Joshua Reid, Jonathan Sircy

The question of Milton’s relationship to Spenser remains a central concern for not only English literary history but also the thorny theoretical concept of intertextuality. When critics have engaged with this intriguing question, they have offered compelling answers that concern Paradise Lost and The Faerie Queene: Maureen Quilligan, Gordon Teskey, John King, and others have powerfully articulated the similarities and differences between Milton and his “original” regarding these authors’ two best known works. There are still productive areas to explore with “Milton’s Spenser,” however, particularly concerning Milton’s and Spenser's other works: lyric poetry, prose, translations, minor epics, and drama.

This proposed seminar seeks to explore the relationship between these two totemic poets of the English Renaissance by inviting papers that will address a variety of intersections between Milton and Spenser concerning religion, politics, race, gender, language, environment, and the literary enterprise.

Those intersections could include, but are not limited to, the following:

the material practices and hermeneutic protocols of post-Reformation Christianity

the poetics of empire and political resistance

slavery, colonialism, and race

the materiality of the body

poetics of cognition

historical development of genre and form

translation and interlinguistic composition

disability and disabled authorship

strategies for representing the environment and the nonhuman

canonicity, pedagogy, and curriculum

re-readings of Paradise Lost and/or The Faerie Queene that result from exploring Milton’s engagement with Spenser in some other work the triangulated relationship between Spenser, Milton, and shared precursors or other writers of the English Renaissance.

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